What is true repentance and how important is it?
We find these words “repent and repentance” stated several times in the Bible, and if one takes a concordance and looks up these words, you can readily find the Scriptures that contain them. The word “repent” is found in various places throughout the Bible from the book of Numbers all the way to the book of Revelation. Can anyone ever have real salvation without ever coming to repent of their sins? Does receiving forgiveness depend on one being repentant? The New Testament alone has the word “repentance” in it at least 24 times, being found in several books. What is real repentance and will God forgive us and grant us salvation without it? (All Scripture from NKJ unless otherwise noted.)
We find the first use of the word “repentance” in Matt 3:7-9 in the NT, where John the Baptist is speaking; V.7 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 "and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”
(Many today display this very same attitude and approach when they feel they will be protected because they are in a certain COG group that is “doing better” than others! (Luke 18:11-14) This also will have to be repented of.)
John the Baptist made it clear to these individuals that just being descended from a righteous man was not good enough. (Nor is just being in a certain COG group) They had to actually have their own fruits of righteousness, showing their repentance of wrong doing and attitude, to escape the wrath to come as he said. Christ also alluded to this same thing for those at the end; Luke 21:36 "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man." Can one be counted worthy to escape without a repentant attitude? Notice what Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, when the NT COG was founded;
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Just what does it actually mean to “repent” anyway? Below is a good definition of repent/repentance.
REPENTANCE; (from International Standard Bible Encylopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (C) 1996 by Biblesoft) 2. Repent, "to Change the Mind": The word metanoeo, expresses the true New Testament idea of the spiritual change implied in a sinner's return to God. The term signifies "to have another mind," to change the opinion or purpose with regard to sin. It is equivalent to the Old Testament word "turn." ---- As a vital experience, repentance is to manifest its reality by producing good fruits appropriate to the new spiritual life <Mt 3:8>.”
Strong’s definition is simple, as it just says to “think differently”, which is the same as we see above. This means to literally turn from your ways, both in thought and action and the ways of the world, in order to go God’s way. What is “sin” that has to be repented of according to the Bible? One definition is Lawlessness or transgressing the Law of God. (1 John 3:4) But in another passage we are shown that the works of the flesh is also considered sinful and must be turned away from. Gal 5:16-17 “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” The next few verses lists the works of the flesh, and other scriptures even show the apostle Paul had to struggle against sin, even after his initial conversion, because sin does not just “go away” after baptism.
Notice what Paul said of himself many years after his baptism; Rom 7:14-25 “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (RSV)
Paul was showing us by his own example of life that he desired to conquer and overcome sin, but he understood as long as he was flesh, he was still subject to the sinful pulls of the flesh and had to constantly repent, fighting off the pulls of the flesh. Perhaps this makes it easier for us to understand the simple words of the apostle Paul in Phil 2:5 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,”—because we know that Jesus Christ never had a sinful mind, as He was perfect, even though he was tempted as we are. (Heb.4:15) But can any other human being have a perfect sinless mind? Not without God’s help, which comes through the Holy Spirit and the help of other true servants of Jesus Christ in the true COG. (Eph.4:11-16) We have to be working toward that end for the rest of our lives after baptism. The Holy Spirit that we received after baptism helps us to grow toward perfection or maturity, but we must constantly be in a repentant attitude, and be willing to grow in grace and in knowledge. (2 Pet. 3:18) Some can lose the use of the Holy Spirit through neglect and carelessness, but still have the initial gift only to be taken away at Christ’s return because they did nothing with it. (Matt.25:24-30) The man in that parable still had what he was given but he had failed to use it by growing and producing fruit. We can see where others who received the Spirit and had begun to grow, but eventually let other things take over their lives and crowd out the spiritual fruit, bringing no fruit to maturity. (Mark 4:7 & Luke 8:14) We should be able to determine from this that it is very important for us to always be in a repentant attitude—confessing our sins to God and asking for His forgiveness. (Pro. 28:13)
Okay, so now that we see we need to repent, any one can do that at any time they want, right? You just accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, knowing He was crucified for the forgiveness of your sins, right? No, not really! There is more to it than that, as we have to first seek God, the truth and His ways above our own, coming to see the need to obey His Ten Commandment Law and have His involvement in our lives, developing a deep desire to obey him. Christ was crucified to redeem us from the death penalty, but that is only the beginning. We have to come to know that every human except Christ has fallen short of the glory of God, (Rom.3:23) and that we are all sinners while still in this flesh! Without being able to recognize that we are sinful people, how can we cry out to God for His forgiveness? In short, God has to grant repentance and lead us to it, as we see in (Rom.2:4 & 2 Tim.2:25) God does not grant repentance, forgiveness and the Holy Spirit to anyone who will not believe and be corrected by His word or obey Him, (Acts 5:32) nor will eternal salvation come to those who may have received the Spirit and then at some point come to neglect or refuse to obey and follow the examples of Christ and the instructions of the Bible. (Heb.5:9) Acknowledgement of sin, then repentance has to come first, then forgiveness and reconciliation through the shed blood of Christ is granted.
Some few in the COG have never quite understood that repentance is an ongoing thing in a Christian’s life, and the receiving of the Spirit of God is just the very beginning of conversion. When one decides he/she no longer needs to keep repenting of sin, they become deceived all over again and can begin to drift away from God, (Heb.2:1) and lose what they have gained. (Heb.5:12-14) A Spirit of unbelief of certain Scriptural passages can also keep us from gaining salvation. (Heb.3:12) When those in the COG today, in its scattered state, begin to reason that they have a need of nothing (especially repentance) because they are in “the Church”—then that is a clear sign of being lukewarm and possibly even losing out, unless repentance does come before it is too late. (Rev. 3:14-19) Neglect of fellowship and assembling with the body of believers can also go too far and reach a point of no return! (Heb.10:25-26—see the article FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST.)
Hopefully, this will not happen to very many and we should all pray that God will continually grant each one of us repentance and a willingness to listen to and believe His every word, while walking in newness of life. (Rom.6:4) No man can even begin this walk with God until being drawn or called by God and then taught from His word, (John 6:44-45) constantly repenting of our failures and seeking God’s forgiveness when we see we are wrong. We must not just deliberately decide to ignore Scriptural direction (as some now seem to be doing) or to break one Commandment or more for selfish reasons. We need to be in a constant attitude of repentance of even those thoughts, in order to grow in faith and receive eternal life! We are being tested!
2 Pet 3:9 “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”